How Long Does It Take to Get a Passport?

Depending on whether the passport is for a minor or adult, needed in a hurry, is a renewal or a first-time passport, and other scenarios will impact how long it takes to get a passport.

This simple question, how long does it take to get a passport, has a myriad of answers. The not-so-simple question, which country has the most powerful passport in the world, has only one.

A first-time passport

So you want to travel outside the country—awesome! Let’s get flying. As you may already know, passports from all over the world only ever come in four colors, and each color has a different meaning. A U.S passport will be blue. You should begin the passport process in person at a passport center, passport acceptance agency, or USPS branch at least 13 weeks before your scheduled departure: routine processing now takes 10-12 weeks from the date of your submission, plus one week to be safe. (If you need it more quickly than 10-12 weeks, we’ll get into that below.)

Since the onset of the pandemic, USPS now conducts application services by appointment only, so you’ll want to make sure you give yourself even more time than the standard 10-12 weeks. Of course, you will want to be mindful of holidays and possible government shutdowns as those days and events will impact passport processing time.

How long does it take to get a passport with expedited service?

The State Department offers an expedited passport application which will have your passport in your hands within 4-6 weeks as opposed to the normal 10-12 week timeframe—for a $60 fee. You can find the nearest passport acceptance facility on the State Department’s website. If you’ve suddenly got the time off and want to travel before your passport will be ready, consider one of the U.S. islands you can visit without a passport.

How long does it take to get a passport in an extreme emergency?

In the event of a life-or-death emergency, you can get a passport in three business days. The State Department considers a life-or-death emergency the death or serious injury or illness of an immediate family member (parents, legal guardians, children, spouses, siblings, grandparents) while abroad.

In order to get an appointment for this service, you must call the State Department (1-877-487-2778 or 1-888-874-7793 during EST business hours; 202-647-4000 outside EST business hours). Once you’ve got an appointment, you must provide a passport application with all the supporting documents, proof of life-or-death emergency (death certificate, statement from a mortuary, or signed letter from a medical professional), and proof of international travel (ticket, reservation) specific to the emergency. There’s a $60 fee for this service too.

How long does it take to renew a passport?

The costs to renew a passport are cheaper than first-time applicants (currently $110 vs $145) but the processing times are similar. Expect a 10-12 week wait once you have completed the passport renewal application, which, in addition to a new passport photo and payment, requires you to send away your most recent passport (and why you should never throw out an expired passport). Fear not, you should get that back to save all your previous passport stamps. Of course, expedited service is available to renew a passport too. You should be able to renew in 6-8 weeks for yet another $60 fee. There are also certain times of the year when passport applications and renewals are likely to be processed more quickly, so be conscious of that too.

How long are United States passports valid?

For adults age 16 and older, U.S. passports are good for ten years. For those under age 16 when their passport was issued, they’re valid for five years.

Why do kids need more frequent passport renewals?

Because their faces are changing so rapidly! Thus they are only good for five years. Note: Every person, regardless of age, traveling outside the country needs a passport book or passport card. This means that your child could have as many as four passports before they turn 16. Processing time for children’s passports is the same standard 10-12 week timeframe, with the same expedited services outlined above available.

What happens if you lose your passport?

According to USA Today, “If you lose your passport in the United States, you must report the loss to the State Department immediately to prevent the fraudulent use of your passport and to start the process of obtaining a replacement. If you are outside of the United States you must contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.” Getting a replacement passport book will cost you at least $135, with expedited service starting at an additional $60 and overnight delivery from $15. In short, keep your passport in a safe and secure location to avoid a financial hit and infinite stress, phone calls, and paperwork. Plus, your passport is sometimes valid in the United States but “expired” in other countries, so stay on top of those renewals!

What is a passport card?

While both the traditional blue passport book and wallet-size passport card are proof of citizenship, the how, when, and where they can be used is very different. A passport book is acceptable for all international travel, but a passport card is good only when entering the United States at land border crossings and seaports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It’s the only time you don’t need a passport to travel abroad. The other difference is the price: passport cards cost less than half that of a full passport book, however processing time and lengths of validity are identical.

My passport is expiring this year but I’m fine to travel still, right?

Actually, probably not. According to Afar, many countries require that your passport be valid at least six months after arriving. Additionally, some countries want you to have at least two blank pages for visa stickers and stamps. If your passport is within six months of expiring, you should start the ball rolling on the passport renewal process before departing. See above for the details on how to renew your passport and how long it will take to get your new passport.

Do people who travel a lot get different passports?

If you expect to give your passport book a workout with many international trips over your passport’s decade of life, there’s a checkbox on the passport application that you absolutely must put an X in to get a slightly different passport.

What is Mobile Passport?

Currently, 30 U.S. airports and four cruise ports utilize the free Mobile Passport smartphone app service (with a premium upgrade option) to speed up traveler’s journeys through customs and immigration by allowing you to use designated Mobile Passport Control lines—separate, faster lanes in the inspection area.

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.